Fashion Fictions, an innovative exhibition, explores the liminal spaces between oppositional, and at times, contradictory ideas. Running from May 27 to Oct. 9 at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) the exhibition showcases works from well-known designers such as Comme des Garçons and Iris van Herpen as well as new artists. On display are various fashion items, including headwear, clothing, and footwear, that experiment with conventional design boundaries.
Curated by Stephanie Rebick, the VAG’s director of publishing and content strategy, the exhibition takes its name from Julian Bleecker’s 2009 essay “Design Fiction.” Bleecker, who hold a PhD in technology and culture from from the History of Consciousness Program at University of California, Santa Cruz, builds off American science fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling’s work to highlight spaces as sites of extraordinary experimentation where the imaginary trespasses into the scientific, fiction crosses into reality, and the future merges into the present.
“The designers featured in Fashion Fictions play in these in-between spaces, combining science and fiction; the real and the imagined; the past and the future in interesting ways,” says Rebick.
As its namesake suggests, Fashion Fictions is designed with an interdisciplinary approach. According to Rebick, the exhibit incorporates research from multiple fields, including engineering and science, as well as sources found in popular culture. With the curatorial help of Amber-Dawn Bear Robe, the exhibit also features work from Indigenous artists. Rebick sees this multifaceted method as motivating viewers to critically reflect on their everyday perceptions.
Architecting liminal and diverse spaces
Fashion Fictions also diversifies fashion by incorporating the works of over 50 international creators. A challenge with installing an exhibition of this scope is figuring out how the different pieces co-exist in the same physical space.
“There are so many different types of work that it can be difficult to envision how they will all exist in the same space and in dialogue with each other,” says Rebick.
To overcome this difficulty, Rebick worked with Measured Architecture, a Vancouver studio that specializes in modern design. Creating a fully immersive and liminal space, the exhibition is divided into three themes: “Material Futures,” “Aesthetic Prophesies,” and “Responsible Visions”. The sections approach hybridity from perspectives of technological advancements, speculative futures, and sustainability. Despite the categorizations, Rebick argues that these frameworks exist together as liminal spaces.
“Collectively, they illuminate several possible trajectories for future design practice, ones that encourage us to consider other models for how we might exist in our current moment as well as in the near future,” she points out.
Rebick notes that these themes are also represented in the exhibition’s first installation, which showcases digital designs and a materialized garment from design group threeASFOUR. To further support this hybridity, she suggests that visitors should enjoy the exhibition, which has no definitive starting or finishing line, in whichever way they see fit.
A significant part of futurizing design practices is also innovating sustainability. Fashion Fictions contributes to conversations on sustainable materials, use, and production in fashion by showcasing various artists using technology for sustainable purposes.
“A number of artists and designers experiment with evolving materials science and biotechnology to produce wares that take advantage of new processes of making,” says Rebick.
She notes that one such artist is Alice Potts who repurposes human sweat to create crystal ornamentations. In addition to highlighting works that adapt materials, including plastic, for use in fabric production, the exhibit also showcases a transformative practice that removes fashion from conventional cycles of production, that of fashion digitalization.
“There are also examples of other designers who incorporate upcycling as a fundamental component of their practice, as well as a spotlight on digital design, which represents the complete dematerialization of fashion,” says Rebick.
Such an avant-garde approach is likely to inspire viewers and provide a fun experience, which are part of Rebick’s hope for the exhibition. As for her second wish, like many others working in arts and design, she hopes that this exhibition encourages further contemplation.
“I hope viewers will be motivated to think more critically about how design can shape how we live,” she says.
For more information on Fashion Fictions, May 27 to Oct. 9, see www.vanartgallery.bc.ca